STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
For as long as Christian McBride can remember, music has been a dominating presence in his life. Following in the footsteps of his father, Lee Smith, and his great-uncle, Howard Cooper, both highly regarded Philadelphia bassists, McBride was destined to pick-up the instrument.
“I got my love for music naturally,” said Christian McBride, speaking from his Montclair, N.J. home. “I was surrounded by greatness, so it only made sense that I would somehow gravitate toward the bass. I was very fortunate that when I started picking it up, I started playing the electric bass guitar when I was 9. I settled up with the instrument, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I believe it was destiny.”
Heralded as a teenage prodigy with the musical chops to back it up, McBride, who would go on to study at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, was playing alongside legendary saxophonist Bobby Watson and his group at age seventeen.
“My biggest problem throughout high school was my mother getting me to stop practicing so I would do my homework. Of course my grades suffered greatly,” recalls McBride. “At least I was able to play my instrument. It’s all worked out. So far, so good.”
Routinely pushing his creativity, McBride expanded his instrumentation from the electric bass to the double bass. By his early twenties, he was working with Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman and Benny Green.
Evolving into a master of the electric and upright bass, accented by his diverse musically creative background, McBride’s services were routinely in demand.
McBride has performed and/or recorded with some of the biggest names in music, including McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Bruce Hornsby, Paul McCartney and his music idol, James Brown. McBride has rapidly built a resume of album credits that have found him appearing on over three hundred songs.
“I thought after playing with James Brown, I was going to be in store for a major depression,” recalls McBride. “I thought, ‘It’s all down hill from here. This was the man who I’ve loved so much more than anyone else, and I finally got to play with him — now what?’ There was nothing else to look forward to. Fortunately, that did not happen, and not too much time passed between the gig with James Brown and my next gig, which was three days later. So, I didn’t have time to get depressed.”
Upon signing with Verve Records, McBride released his debut album, “Gettin’ To It,” in 1995. He has since recorded nearly a dozen albums with a handful of releases in the works for 2015.
In 2000, McBride formed “The Christian McBride Band,” an acoustic/electric jazz, fusion and funk ensemble featuring McBride (bass), Ron Blake (saxophone), Geoffrey Keezer (piano/ Keyboards) and Terreon Gully (drums). The band released two albums, “Vertical Vision” (2003) and “Live at Tonic” (2006), before ending their eight-year run.
In 2008, McBride joined the jazz-fusion super group “Five Peace Band,” featuring Chick Corea, Vinnie Colaiuta, John McLaughlin and Kenny Garrett.
A three time Grammy Award winning artist, McBride recently earned his fourth honor as bassist on Chick Corea’s 2014 live album “Trilogy.”
“I feel very fortunate about the amazing experiences that I’ve had up to this point,” says McBride. “I look forward to having more. Some of my top ten moments in my career — I do wonder sometimes if they really happened?”
“Anytime I even think about getting cocky or having an ego, I know there is always someone who is better than me,” added McBride. “When you hear somebody that’s really blowing the roof off the place, you know that person is better (laughs). Somewhere in the world there is someone that we don’t know about that is kicking my behind. It’s just a matter of time before he comes up and blows the place up. That’s what keeps me in check.”
McBride remains busier than ever fronting a variety of groups. “Inside Straight” features Steve Wilson (saxophone), Warren Wolf (vibraphone), Peter Martin (piano) and Carl Allen (drums).
A jazz trio features Christian Sands (piano) and Ulysses Owens, Jr. (drums). He also plays with an 18-piece big band as well as an experimental group, “A Christian McBride Situation,” featuring Patrice Rushen (piano/ keyboards), DJ Logic (turn-tablist), Jahi Sundance (saxophone), Ron Blake (saxophone) and Alyson Williams (vocals).
“I really think I tend to lean more toward what I call ‘meat and potatoes hard clean jazz,’” says McBride. “I really love doing that. Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Count Basie Orchestra — that’s sort of my wheelhouse. My bone marrow is James Brown, Motown, Isaac Hayes, and Gladys Knight. You need to know a lot about a lot of things in order to play jazz.”
“I’m just trying to be the best musician I can possibly be,” added McBride. “Whatever situation I’m in, I want to be able to do the best job that I can do. I just want to be able to fit in any and every situation.”
McBride returns to Philly later this month to perform two nights in the intimate setting of Chris’ Jazz café.
“I’m glad to be back in Philly,” says McBride. “I’m excited to be there with my trio. It’s always better when you’re right up on the audience. The audience can feel the music. A small room is great. The energy is right there, right in front.”
“I’m very proud to come from the great city of Philadelphia and to be part of the lineage of great musicians across genres,” added McBride. “Philadelphia has a rich and storied legacy, not just in jazz but also in blues, soul, classical, rock. I wear my Philly stripes with pride.”
IF YOU GO
What: Christian McBride Trio, featuring Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens
Where: Chris’s Jazz Cafe, 1421 Sansom St., Philadelphia.
When: Feb. 27 and 28. Showtime for both nights is 8 p.m.
Tickets: Available by calling (215) 568-3131 or online at www.chrisjazzcafe.com.
Info.: To stay up to date with Christian McBride visit www.christianmcbride.com.